Dry needling, new technique in pain relief therapy

Above: Physiotherapist Vivian Tie of JPMC performing the dry needling technique on a patient with muscle dysfunction.

BRUNEI - Jerudong Park Medical Centre (JPMC) has introduced a new pain relief therapy called dry needling that can shorten recovery time for stroke patients, said the centre's chief physiotherapist yesterday.

Vivian Tie, head of JPMC's Rehabilitation Department, said the technique is a "Western type of acupuncture" that releases tension caused by muscular dysfunction.

"It resets the muscle, basically wakes it up. A lot of stroke patients overuse certain muscles because other parts of their bodies are not functioning," she said.

"The pain relief (from dry needling) is very fast so therapists can concentrate on patients' walking and they don't have to spend hours releasing the tension from the muscle... So that shortens the recovery time."

There are seven licensed dry needling therapists at JPMC trained by an expert from the Australian Physiotherapy Association. Four out of seven have been assigned to work with stroke patients.

The therapy also promotes post-surgery healing,Vivian explained, particularly after traumatic motorvehicle accidents. Usually patients must wait at least three months before dry needling can be employed. "It is just an adjunct to other therapies but a very useful adjunct. You need to do exercises as well, such as stretching, strengthening (to treat the problem)."

Dry needling releases opioids into the bloodstream, reducing pain and inflammation by working on the muscles' trigger points. Similar to traditional Chinese methods, the technique is used to relieve pain from arthritis, chronic or acute tendonitis, back and neck pain, and all types of muscular dysfunction.

"It is less painful than injection needles because the needle is smaller, thinner. When you inject the needle, you can move the needle, twist it, or go up and down like sewing."

The department head explained that dry needling uses a different method and approach from Chinese acupuncture: "The only thing that is the same is that we use needles."

"The traditional Chinese method employs the energetic pathway known as chi, and they believe in redistributing the stagnant chi in the body."

"A lot of people swear by it and it does work. It uses the meridians which correspond to the nerve points... but Western researchers have shown that these energetic pathways do not exist... It's not to say that it condemns the traditional method but it's just a Western approach."

When asked why patients should opt for dry needling over traditional methods, Vivian said that JPMC assesses the patient as a whole, trying to identify the root of the problem and not just treat the immediate source of pain.

"If you want more information, if you want a more thorough assessment of your body instead of just poking certain parts of your body, then (by using) dry needling you may be more satisfied as a patient."

Half hour sessions at JPMC start at S$45 but those still unsure about the suitability of the treatment for their particular problem can first undergo an initial consultation for S$30.

Usually patients are advised to undergo dry needling sessions once a week for four weeks but it could be less or more depending on an individual's particular ailment.